Ebola – our opportunity to face our realities squarely and collectively

Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 December 2014

palo conteh and president koromaBenjamin Franklin s’ famous “Two wolves and a small lamb voting on what to have for dinner”, aptly describes the realities of our convulsing, blood-soaked Sierra Leone today.

Between Ebola and razzmatazz governance, stand the distressed masses.

With our leaders obviously otiose, we cannot take it for granted anymore that the future prosperity of our nation is guaranteed. However, remembering our socio-political past can bring the much-needed honesty.

But just as we – our leaders in particular, can take inspiration from the high points of our history, so also should we be humble enough to take perspective from the low-points, including the events of the immediate few years.

Sierra Leone is where it is today, simply because for so long, we’ve always had a problem with political conversations that we believe can’t, or should not have for the sake of the sensibilities of particular individuals or ethnic groups, while the allure of sentiments over substance was gradually being raised to an art, in our see-no-evil-speak-no-evil studio.

Even while in dire straits – no thanks to a system that elevates the fortunes of a few and promotes misfortune for the many, we are led to believe and expect that our wrong foundation would give us a solid structure.

We continue to grope for the way forward, having ceded leadership to politicians and their cronies.

The truth therefore is that we are all guilty. In whatever situation we find ourselves today, we have had it coming all along.

Now, with some of those expected to lead our path to growth, dictating the moral boundaries of our discussions and political system, there is a compulsive need to ensure that our dreams are not snatched from the womb of a new morning – post Ebola.

salone poverty1One of our fundamental problems is that we continue to neglect our gaping sore, and continue to treat the rashes around it, under the erroneous impression that once the rashes dry up, the festering wound will heal.

But let’s face it, a story that must be told, despite its ugliness or whose ox is gored, never forgives silence.

The tale of our beloved country needs to be told. Especially after the convoluted submission and emotional strain in President Koroma’s state of the nation address, in which Ebola and the battered masses were much to blame for the present national political, economic and social predicament.

At no time in the President’s speech was there a mention of his administration’s initial lethargy to the reports of the outbreak.

Neither was he gracious enough to acknowledge that the stranger in our midst has helped to uncover some of his government’s shortcomings, which he should be planning to focus on, once we can get our lives back.

salone poverty2What a shame; because whether the story of Ebola is contemporary or not, its arrival exposes to us the same harsh reality of innocent people suffering cruel fate, because of the follies of leadership.

But wait a minute. Whose reputation was so much at stake, that transparency about the depth of the ravaging problem was and continues to be massaged?

Truth is that the epidemic’s spread could have been slowed by a swifter and more substantial response.

The searing honesty of the other affected countries which did not embark on our type of stubborn national lockdown, is significantly one of the reasons why they are having a downturn now, without having to blame the rest of the world for not doling out funds to them.

As this episode also continues to turn murkier by the day, with reports of corrupt activities, several brave compatriots – many of whom have not been paid in months, are facing starvation and the harrowing experience of seeing colleagues die around them.

Therefore, what is being portrayed by those in power, displays a significant disconnect between the leader and his constituents, as well as a distinct lack of compassion.

Sierra Leoneans have suffered too many unfulfilled promises, and too many shocking denials of matters which critically affect them – not least the promise of El Dorado by 2010.

In our own case, the more you look, the less you see. It is a long tale of woes. Most provisions of essential services such as hospitals and medical facilities have only been provided in the realm of imagination, as the suffering masses cannot see nearly as much as it’s claimed to be in place.

Our wealthy and elected leaders travel abroad for medical treatment, while our healthcare delivery service deteriorates.

Not only that, the majority of the people have not only been forced to accept the level of poverty that is their lot, they are also being taunted by the reckless display of opulence by corrupt leaders.

President-Koroma receives ebola donations2As some reports had it, even amidst the ravaging Ebola, corruption, like a cancer, continues to drain our national life and threaten not only our future, but also the desperate men and women whose only crime is to be Sierra Leoneans of low means.

Investment funds are in private pockets. And while the system is not working or delivering the expected dividends of democracy to the majority, people who deserve nothing are pocketing billions and are asking us to go to hell, as they parade the corridors of power.

That is why even in this dire time of a ravaging virus, volunteer anti-Ebola foot soldiers are being short-changed, as money given for the payment of their allowances are floating from one account to the other, and those risking their lives have to resort to desperate measures before they can be paid.

Shamelessly, as some dip their hands in the pot, the poor sods in the heat of fire end up bearing the brunt of the impudence of those that have been put in charge of the sweat of charitable organisations and individuals worldwide.

Those in power, abuse us on a daily basis, threatening our lives and daring us to challenge them.

They care less what we feel about the way the country is going, except like now when besides the deaths, Ebola has blown the veil over the fragile nature of our economy and cosmetic attributes of most of the so-called infrastructural transformation of the past few years – especially in health care.

ebola sierra leone222Don’t get me wrong, there is much to be appreciated in the government’s effort to date. But overall, the perennial failure to deliver basic services to the larger number has changed the transformational agenda package, to a Tantalisation Agenda.

The true picture of our reality, which by the arrival of Ebola depicts our inability to erect a sturdy future, continues to be anchored on the deceit of promises and longwinded speeches that are becoming the hallmark of our mode of governance.

Typically, in what I consider to be an exercise in vainglory and a delusion of grandeur, government insists on its high performance score at every turn and in flowery languages.

There is a speech for everything, under the warp assumption that such exercises assure our future. God help you if you declare that it is otherwise.

Our leaders continue to speak long grammar and economic/socio-political jargons that produce no tangible results, put food in the hungry man’s stomach or take care of his health and other social needs.

Since 2007, how many houses have had pipe-borne water? With all the attendant fanfare what exactly is the state of other amenities?

This is not a blame game. It is a call for true discussion about expectations and results; promises and delivery…..etc. it is a clarion call for introspection.

Over half a century after we gained our supposed freedom, our colonial master along with other international tanks are packed once again on our lawns – this time not for their own economic benefit alone, but to bail us out of the grips of a devastating unwanted visitor we unwittingly gave shelter to and helped by the grand larceny that has been going on, in the name of governance.

Therefore, today, as the nation staggers beneath the weight of Ebola and walk through the valley of its encapsulating stranglehold – multiplied by hardship, should we continue to urinate down the wrong end of the wind tunnel?

Poverty in Sierra Leone As we watch the horror that has become our staple diet from the kitchen of our political elites in the last three decades, and see the silent majority daily subjected to acts of callousness that mock humanity and animalise them, it is high time we created a thinking nation that will connect us with the missing link, which has stood between us and our vision of the kind of Sierra Leone we want.

To me, beyond the umbrella of Ebola that has added to the sense of utter despair and myriad of social, economic and political problems which have afflicted us, especially in the last two years, I believe every indication is that we are approaching our moment of truth – a time of true national consciousness and evaluation.

No doubt, sooner or later, we will defeat Ebola. But what happens to the flaws in our society thereafter? This is the question.

Democracy it has been said is not a spectator sport . we need to start looking at other issues affecting us beyond those which seek no greater purpose than self-perpetuation of the ruling cabal and others in the current generation of self-obsessed, out-of-touch, elitist power mongers.

The fabled mantra of ‘hero-worshipping our leaders’ should surely be a busted flush, while our inability to handle the truth as a people needs re-examination.

president koroma failedI strongly empathize with President Koroma’s supporters who are ignorantly bonded with the status quo – those narrow-minded individuals with no inclusive attitude to other people’s opinions, who feel that “di Pa dae wok” is a magic mantra for all our woes.

Beyond their noses, is the truth that a medley of macabre events, in which one seems to be seizing the limelight after the other, have destroyed those things that made life possible.

So, for the lack of one thing, so many other things cannot be our portion as a pervading sense of national unease, continues to reinforce a perception of drift and weakness.

The machinations of fanatical power gobblers who seek to bamboozle us with tales of fantasies has been banished by the spectre of Ebola and its attendant vampire prowess.

On the horizon though is the realisation that there is hope if we are prepared to take on our challenges with honesty and sincerity.

Our future is in our hands. But instead of perpetually feeding on a diet of hard knocks, we need a new menu devoid of corrupt tendencies, inept, incompetent, insincere and morally bankrupt leadership and followership.

This is our opportunity to face our realities squarely and collectively.

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